Drive for Cal's over, but thanks a million

JOHN EISENBERG

August 18, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

On that July night so full of promise, when someone in the stands at Camden Yards threw a quarter that hit me in the shoulder, it was impossible to envision this day.

But as Jim Morrison sang in the song: "This is the end."

Here at the executive level of the "Cal's Million Drive," we are admitting defeat.

Grudgingly.

We thought we could raise the $1 million a year separating the Orioles and Cal Ripken in their contract talks.

We have raised $39.04 in coins, dollar bills and personal checks.

Also, approximately $60 worth of goods and services, in the form of a free acupuncture treatment and a free round of golf at Clifton Park.

Hundreds of people have sent in coupons pledging to deposit a quarter or more in bins by the entrance gates.

I must admit that I feel a little bit like Ross Perot here, and by that I do not mean I am feeling very short with large ears.

It is just that so many people have gotten on board this thing. It is a shame to call it quits. For so long, there was so much about which to be enthusiastic.

There was that night at the ballpark when someone threw money at me. And I didn't even ask!

It was during batting practice, and I was making my way through the stands to the press box, and . . . pow! I was attacked by a quarter.

The man who threw it wore glasses and a cap. He just looked at me and nodded. I picked up his quarter off the ground. We never spoke. I was deeply moved.

Then there were the letters and deposits that have continued to fill my office mailbox throughout the summer.

Tom Ackerman Jr., a recent graduate of Loyola College, sent two quarters and four pennies and explained that the quarters represented two beers at the establishment where he spends his Monday nights, and that, as "a man who enjoys beer," this was no small sacrifice.

As for the pennies, he explained: "What am I going to do with them anyway?"

Mr. Ackerman also said he was willing to treat Cal to a free round of golf -- but only at Clifton Park because "not to be redundant, but it is the cheapest course."

Such forward thinking. Would you want to call it quits?

Robin Norton of Baltimore sent a handful of photocopied pledge coupons after having apparently passed them around her office. Among the signees was a man named Ed Norton. To the moon!

But the biggest, brightest day of all was when I heard from Michael Berney, of Camp Hill, Pa., who quickly became known here in the "Cal's Million" executive offices as Mr. Matching Funds.

Berney identified himself as someone who "gives away money )) for a living." If you want his address, get it yourself.

Anyway, Berney wrote a check for $17.25, matching the total raised as of July 4. And to back up his fine gesture, he suggested the possibility of corporate sponsorship. A brilliant idea, of course.

After consultations with our financial group, we approached several companies. One was interested but, in these recessionary times, was looking for a less expensive alternative, such as perhaps a Bill Ripken pledge drive. At the other companies we were taken for crackpots and never got beyond pit-bull secretaries.

Then the stack of letters in my mailbox slowly began to shrink.

Finally, someone said to me: "So what are you really going to do with the money?" Sarcasm. The last straw.

Suddenly it all just added up. Even at the most optimistic reckoning, we still needed $999,700. And the season was almost over. We had to face facts: This deal was just not going to go down.

Oh, there were a few last, desperate ideas. Someone suggested I take the money to Atlantic City and bet it on No. 8 at the roulette wheel. Someone else suggested lottery tickets.

My main concern was to avoid being arrested on fraud charges.

The money will go to Cal's learning center. Cal and the Orioles will just have to work this contract thing out themselves.

The good news is that I think they are up to it. I think he will be back next year. Both sides want it badly enough.

The bad news, of course, is that we were not able to make a difference. I am not sure what went wrong. Perhaps too many people really believed Cal would never hit another home run. Chicken Littles. Perhaps they recognized the Orioles wouldn't want to touch our grubby little quarters anyway.

But, hey, we had it going there, didn't we? Matching funds, the whole works. It was a ball. And let me just say this in closing: Please don't throw money. I have waited all my life to say that, and I don't know when I will get another chance.

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